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Commentary: For the sake of unity

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  • umcornet
    Friday, April 30, 2004 For the sake of unity A UMNS Commentary By the Rev. A. William Bill Martin* Talk of schism in the United Methodist Church has
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 30, 2004
      Friday, April 30, 2004
      For the sake of unity
      A UMNS Commentary
      By the Rev. A. William "Bill" Martin*

      Talk of schism in the United Methodist Church has increased,
      following the recent trial of the Rev. Karen Dammann in the Pacific
      Northwest Annual Conference.

      But there is a way to preserve unity for the foreseeable future, if
      the General Conference of 2004 is willing to make a few changes in
      the 2004 Book of Discipline.

      If enough delegates can agree to these changes (and of course the
      balance of power rests with the "moderate" voters), then the
      denomination will:

      *Allow for a cooling-off period about a volatile issue.
      *End almost all church trials over questions related to ordination
      and holy unions.
      *Affirm that West Coast annual conferences and similarly minded
      conferences, as well as local congregations such as Glide Memorial in
      San Francisco, are vital parts of the United Methodist communion.
      *Guarantee central conferences (the church's regional units in
      Africa, Asia and Europe) that they need not fear changing mores and
      moral standards in the United States.
      *Allow people entering the ministry to be true to their convictions
      about homosexuality, whatever they have come to believe, since they
      will be able to relate to an annual conference where they will feel
      at home.
      *Open the door for ministers who feel isolated where they are because
      of their beliefs about homosexuality to transfer to conferences where
      their concept of ministry is affirmed.
      *Encourage open dialogue in those annual conferences where a variety
      of beliefs exist about homosexuality.

      The first change, primarily symbolic, would be to replace the
      language condemning "the practice of homosexuality" in the nonbinding
      Social Principles (Paragraph 161.G) with a statement that the church
      is not of one mind on this issue.

      Among the many petitions along this line, the one from the California-
      Pacific Annual Conference (40078) is noteworthy for its spirit of
      respect for divergent opinion. While removing the condemnatory
      language, it maintains "the right of families and churches to offer
      renewal through the transformation of sexual identity," no small
      concession when one remembers that many gay persons and their friends
      view transforming ministries as of little or no value.

      At the level of church law, delegates will need to give annual
      conferences the final say on matters of ordination and same-sex

      In the former area, it is a matter of extending a principle that
      already exists to include the final decision on ordaining gay or
      lesbian or transgender clergy. Two petitions open the door for
      modifying Paragraph 304.3 along these lines (40701 and 40077). In the
      latter area, the Troy Conference has proposed qualifying the
      prohibition against "(c)eremonies that celebrate homosexual unions"
      (Paragraph 332.6) by adding "except within annual conferences that
      have authorized such ceremonies" (Petition 41082).

      Without some kind of accommodation along these or similar lines, the
      United Methodist Church will, it seems likely, continue to make
      national and international headlines over the next four years with
      one high-profile church trial after another. But if we place many of
      the concerns related to homosexuality on the backburner for a while,
      recognizing that sincere Christians disagree on this issue, then
      there is a chance that our church might merit an occasional news
      report about something else - like its witness on poverty and world
      peace or perhaps its rapid growth in some parts of the world. We
      could even do worse than a complete absence of headlines for a while!

      *Martin is a retired elder in the Arkansas Annual Conference and the
      W. Martin Jr. professor of religion emeritus at Oklahoma City
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